'Ringer' stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ioan Gruffudd talk about their new series

'Ringer,' say stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nestor Carbonell, and Ioan Gruffudd, will appeal to fans with its twisty plotting and human themes.

Nate Beckett/Splash News/Newscom
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ioan Gruffud, Nestor Carbonell and other "Ringer" stars pose at the Television Critics Association Summer 2011 CBS-Showtime-CW party.

When bad-twin Brigit takes on the identity of her good-twin Siobhan, she finds out that the phrase “out of the frying pan and into the fire” takes on a whole new meaning when it not only involves you, but a loved one as well. She had no idea that her sister, Siobhan had so many secrets, nor that she also was looking for a way to escape her life. But Siobhan’s escape plan is a lot more deadly than Brigit would have dreamed up. Suddenly caught in a web of lies and world of deceit and treachery, Brigit has a lot to learn – fast! – about the twin she thought she knew. It is a race against time, a race from the past and neither is waiting patiently on the sidelines. Brigit’s life is on the line and she has literally no one to trust. She only thought it was a good idea to slip into her sister’s “slippered” shoes.

While attending Comic-Con this summer, the stars and creators of RINGER shared with press what drew them to this complex story of two twins, both on the run from a dark past. Sarah Michelle Gellar portrays both Brigit and Siobhan; Nestor Carbonell plays the FBI agent Victor Machado hot on her trail; and Kristoffer Polaha and Ioan Gruffudd play the many loves of Siobhan – one, Brigit’s lover and one, Brigit’s husband. Life is indeed a bit complicated for a girl just trying to find a safe place to hide.

Sarah, what convinced you to return to television?

SARAH: I think it is a combination of things. I think you wait for the right opportunity and I had been looking for what that was. And I’m not going to lie, being in Los Angeles and being able to get home to put my daughter to bed at night is a really nice feeling. I started to miss the family experience that you get on a television show. I missed really getting to know the people and I just realized that once I had a child that I was done with the nomadic lifestyle. And I loved it for a period of time, to be able to go and travel and work in exotic places. But that’s not the kind of life I want for my child. Not to say it’s not a great life and an amazing experience. I know so many actors that do it very well, it just wasn’t what I wanted for my family.

So in RINGER you obviously place two characters, which sounds like a big workload. Do you ever just wonder: Who am I playing today?

SARAH: That’s funny ‘cause on BUFFY my hours were so long and I was in like every scene, so my joke used to be: Am I Buffy in this scene too? It’s just funny ‘cause I can’t use it anymore! I actually have to ask. The funny thing was that when we were doing the pilot, the shortest days I had were twin days. Obviously because there’s no stunts, usually, when you’re playing opposite yourself — yet.

This seems to be the year of the doppelganger ‘cause we’ve seen it on FRINGE, VAMPIRE DIARIES – it’s not exactly the same since you’re playing twins, but are you concerned that the audience may be fatigued and think RINGER is just duplicating what other shows are already doing?

SARAH: Let’s be honest, people credit BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER for bringing vampires back, but there were vampires long before BUFFY. There’s going to be vampires long after. I mean, all stories can be sourced back to the Bible, essentially there’s like five stories. Classically, there’s Romeo and Juliet. There’s David and Goliath. So if you tell stories well, then they are different. I don’t think it will be seen that way. I hope not.

Are you finding that you are reaching a new generation of fans with RINGER?

SARAH: I hope so! It will be interesting to see. I think the way that people watch television is just so different now. There’s so many channels and you really have to make a great show for people to tune in. But at the same time, it’s a time where movies are so expensive and gas is so expensive, so I think a lot of people are really staying home to watch television now. It gives us more liberties and more opportunities to do something different.

NESTOR: I think for TV there are so many niche markets now and this will appeal to one of them. Thus, you have to really appeal to a certain group in a very specific way, not in a general way. And it is so important for the showrunners to make sure each show wants its voice — to be seen on its own so that it doesn’t look derivative and it really speaks authentically to what they are trying to do. And I think in this particular case, Pam, Nicole, Eric are very particular about keeping the sort of tone a little film noir and kind of a serialized thriller which we are not really seeing now on TV and maintaining sort of the integrity of that. Hopefully, people will see the authenticity of it.

How do you work to distinguish the twins on screen? Is wardrobe a big part of that?

SARAH: Wardrobe certainly plays a part in it. But I sort of boil it down to its simplest form, which is Brigit’s story is the story of redemption, and Siobhan’s story is story of revenge. As long as they are constantly in the back of my mind, it’s pretty easy to be any character. It’s not different than the preparation that Nestor will do to play Machado: What is your character doing, what is his purpose, why is he here, what does he want? Any actor preparing for any role pretty much does the same thing. . . . You also learn certain things in television, and one of the first things I told Eric was: daytime — these people like daytime. ‘Cause on BUFFY, it was always night and you have to wait for night to film. But then on RINGER we have these great party scenes and all these fancy costumes and afterwards I was like, ‘yeah, I can do this!’

Nestor, do you see Machado as a bad guy and will he always be kept in the dark about Brigit’s impersonation of Siobhan?

NESTOR: There are certain things we are still discovering. Even though we are ahead of my character as an audience, I don’t think he’s a bad guy. I think he’s figuring out that there’s something else underneath all this. But I think we’ll be a step ahead of him for a little bit. Hopefully, that will turn and he’ll catch up with everyone else. But playing with the notion of twins and having known Brigit for a couple of months through his investigation and then her stepping to be Siobhan and him having to interrogate her, I think he’ll begin to have suspicions.

SARAH: It’s important for us that none of these characters are stereotypical. He’s not going to be the bumbling FBI agent and you’ll be like: why he cannot figure it out? We get it. I am that person that yells at the television screen. So we’re making sure that we do not give fans a reason to yell at their televisions.

Do the writers let you have input into your characters and the storylines, such as when you think something may be too obvious and there is now way that anyone is going to buy it?

SARAH: I’m not a writer. I’ve never fancied myself one. And they do a really good job.

How difficult is it being a producer and an actor on the show?

SARAH: It is different. There’s no question about that. I get a lot of questions answered ahead of time, which in a way, that sort of lightens the load. Our show isn’t as always as complicated as other shows, so our hours are easier. It was really important to me as I wanted a show where everybody enjoys their life as well as enjoys making the show. Because that is what makes a better show. And we put together an amazing crew. We have lunch together everyday. We have playdates on weekends with all the kids. It’s a different experience than being in your 20’s and working crazy hours. These are all people with marriages and families and we’re trying to honor that as well and support them.

With the emphasis to make the show a noir thriller, do you think the show its still accessible enough to bring in viewers later in the season?

NESTOR: I think so. Especially with DVR’s and DVD’s available, I don’t think it will difficult for viewers to catch up and tune in.

Maybe you could talk a little about the fun you’re having working on RINGER?

IOAN: We shot the pilot earlier this year and our first day was actually yesterday. So I wish I was here to reveal all sorts of secrets about the storyline, but I don’t even know any myself yet. [laughter] No, it’s a very exciting journey that we’re embarking on. It’s a show that our audience is in on this massive secret from the very beginning and I think that’s enough ‘cause you know that Brigit is not Siobhan. It’s like a Greek tragedy, the whole set up at the very beginning and we’re going to see how it all plays out.

How can your characters not tell that Brigit is not Siobhan, even after kissing her?

IOAN: That’s something I’m curious about as well. [laughter] It takes lots of practice. It is a serialized drama on The CW Network. We’re not pretending this is a bit of reality or realism. It’s heightened reality. We have to suspend that disbelief and if we can get beyond that in the first episode, then you’ll be hooked for the entire season. If you can’t get over that, then I’m afraid we’ve lost you already.

KRIS: My character didn’t really get to kiss [Brigit]. I gave her a quick kiss in the pilot. But it was not enough to raise a red flag.

Will we be seeing any flags raised with your characters since they are the most intimately involved with her?

IOAN: We haven’t been told anything. I think there’s enough intrigue to go on that we can’t really reveal anything too early. I guess it’s like MOONLIGHTING. We want them to get together, but they never really get together. I think that’s kind of what’s going on.

The assumption is that your wonderful actors and you wouldn’t take roles where the characters are not picking up on clues that this is a totally different woman.

IOAN: Well, I think we eluded to that fact in the pilot because suddenly the relationship that Siobhan and Andrew had started to change for the better in Andrew’s eyes. So he’s suspicious of something. That instinct will still be there in the background.

KRIS: For Henry, there’s wonderful moments. Because they already have a relationship, it’s like a boat and it’s already taken its course. Then all of a sudden there are some radical changes and these really cool moments which make him go, ‘wait a minute.’

Especially since it seems that she is now colder with Henry and warmer with Andrew.

KRIS: Right. I think another thing the writers have given me as Henry is that I loved Siobhan. He’s starting to feel like he’s an outsider, even though he is the only one who knows what’s been going on. But he’s not in this world they live in and he doesn’t want to be in this world. But with Siobhan, they’re more kindred spirits. So there’s this interesting thing: Henry’s character motivation. When I read the script, I thought: What’s this guy’s hook going to be? Is this for real? His wife puts him down. She emasculates him. Yet Siobhan builds up and he feels like he can actually accomplish something great. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity and this character is ripe for a lot of juicy, juicy development.

Do you have a hard time being on set and not being giddy because playing these characters is so fun?

IOAN: We have all been pinching ourselves. It’s very rare that you come to work on anything feeling like that, but every element seems to have come through: Sarah, a crew of people that she’s worked with for many years on BUFFY, so there’s a real sense of family. On a practical level, it feels lovely and comfortable and exciting. We are really spoiled with riches.

Do you feel like you’re in the shadow of BUFFY at all?

IOAN: No. I think there’s been plenty of time that has passed. Therefore, Sarah’s matured. She’s a mother – Sarah, herself – and I think there’s enough of a gap between. I mean, you really can’t compare the two shows. So, we’ll see.

KRIS: It’s like dating: you dated for two years, you’re broken up for two years, and she’s finally out of your system. BUFFY was on for 7 years and it’s been off for at least that. It’s from a different place. I think people are excited to see Sarah return to television.

Were you surprised by the network jump from CBS to The CW?

KRIS: It’s Les Moonves. It’s all his babies. It’s sort of strange to me as I wondered what happened, but Les is extremely smart businessman and CBS is a great success. I mean, BLUE BLOODS is pulling in the average of 12 million viewers on a Friday night. This show, however, is going to pull in people who are BUFFY fans and it’s also going to pull in people who are in their 20’s and teenagers, so I think demographically it fits this demo so much better than on CBS, and it gives us a chance to really run with something. Again, the writers have been totally smart and painted the path with some really interesting storylines, so I think it’s a great marriage.

Can you talk a bit more about your characters, talking about the emotions that they are relying upon now that their lives are a mirror fractured? What is the core emotion or strength would be for each of them?

KRIS: Wow, good question. That is a deep, deep question ...

IOAN: I think ultimately Andrew is devastated by the demise of his marriage. I think he’s really a good guy who is going through a lot – possibly with work and whatever has happened in the relationship with his wife. But I think ultimately he’s trying to pull everything back together. He’s terrified of losing her again, despite his seemingly cold attitude towards her. Now that she’s suddenly changed does not solve everything.

So out of desperation and determination, he clings on?

IOAN: I think so. I think every successful man has a family to support him and I think he thrives on that and he’s desperately upset that his daughter’s a rebel and he’s a guy who really wants to hold onto those he loves and be close to them.

So Andrew values his relationships?

IOAN: I think so. These are maybe the one thing that he truly values. On the business side, that’s different. But emotionally, I think it is important to him.

Kris, on LIFE UNEXPECTED, you were more of the hero, and yet in RINGER, you don’t seem to be. So what drew you to that kind of role?

KRIS: It’s interesting for me. Pilot season was just a whole bunch of scripts that I got. But the reason that Henry sort of talked to me was because there was so much I didn’t know about him. Which opens up possibilities. Which if I’m wrong, then it’s pretty simple. But if it does work, you have this great character and this great role. So I looked at what I was doing and what the character was doing – and this guy is not Baze at all. He’s a very different creature, which is a nice challenge

Executive Producers Eric Charmelo, Nicole Snyder and Pam Veasey

How did you feel once you heard that RINGER would be debuting on The CW?

ERIC: We were thrilled!

It seems like a different show for The CW. Do you think they were eager to embrace something stylistically different?

ERIC: Yeah, they were. I’ve said from the beginning, they recognized it as a film noir and as a serialized thriller. They owned it and they let us revel in it and that’s what it is – and it’s going to be awesome!

It seems kind of edgy and dark. Is there going to be moments of levity?

NICOLE: Absolutely!

ERIC: Sure.

PAM: In the conceit of twins, you just have to. There’s a little bit of tongue-in-cheek in that, so we’ll definitely have a little bit of humor in the show.

How much of the series will focus on Brigit and how much will focus on Siobhan?

NICOLE: When we start, we’re going to be telling Brigit’s story. But we’re playing with time and perspective so we’ll definitely see Siobhan and get to know her as well.

There are so many twists in the pilot that could have been spread out over 3 to 5 episodes, will you be able to keep that up in each episode?

NICOLE: We’re trying! Our writers are exhausted.

PAM: I’m sorry you noticed that because now we’ll have to keep it up! [laughter]

ERIC: Things happen at a break-neck pace. We’re trying to live up to the bar we’ve set and keep it up as each episode goes on.

Will each episode end on a cliff-hanger?

NICOLE: Occasionally. If you end in a moment, you’ll come back to that moment in another episode and other times we take a break and then sometimes we’ll have the “gasp” moment, where everyone gasps, so viewers can have a conversation about it, asking ‘did you see THAT?’ That’s really important to us.

ERIC: And just when you think you’ve figured something out, we’re going to throw a wrench into the equation and then take it in a completely different tangent. So it helps keep things fresh.

Are you hearing a lot of feedback from BUFFY fans?

ERIC: Yeah. They’re rabid. Those are big shoes to fill. So we hope we do Sarah and the BUFFY legacy justice.

Since you’re doing so much press for the show, how do you like to describe it opposed to how everyone else is describing it as a ‘female thriller’?

ERIC: It’s a neo noir thriller.

So you want everyone to know that it’s the new neo-noir thriller on The CW?

ERIC: Absolutely! Absolutely. At the end of the day, it’s a character study about twin sisters and the nature of sibling rivalry. It’s also about identity and it’s about revenge.

Sarah is obviously a very coveted person in the TV world, what do you think drew her to this project?

ERIC: I think because she got to play two characters. She said that the best co-star is yourself – they always remember their lines. So I think that’s why! [laughter]

NICOLE: Another reason I think she was drawn to the project is that it’s a very family-related show. Almost everyone on our staff has children. My daughter and her daughter are almost the same age and they play together. And we are here to make sure she still sees her child and her husband.

How did you get involved with the show?

PAM: [Nicole and Eric] created it, I just got to read it. The script was sent to me to help supervise the pilot. And I read it and just thought it had it all. It was fun to read, it was intriguing. It wasn’t a procedural like I’ve been working many years and it was exiting. It was taking me back to other family dramas, so it was a great opportunity. I was excited. So for me, I was like, ‘I’ve got to get this job!’

Was the show always based on the premise of having twin sisters?

ERIC: Yeah, it was always conceived as twin sisters.

NICOLE: We like to write female voices.

ERIC: We like writing for them and we liked the idea of writing about people living double-lives and we wanted to do a neo-noir for a really long time. So all the pieces of the puzzle kind of fit together. This seemed like the perfect piece to explore all of our obsessions.

Do you know where the story is going? Like do you have the storyline planned out or are you going to make it up as you go along?

NICOLE: We do. We know.

ERIC: When we first pitched the series we had about 3 seasons percolating. And we’re playing with time and perspective, so it gives us a lot of latitude to play with chunks of time, but from different perspectives. So you’re telling the same story, but from a different perspective, it is a completely different story. So it gives us a lot of latitude.

Since you moved the show from New York to Los Angeles, does that affect the tone of the show and how you portray the show, such as location shoots and background?

ERIC: This woman [Pam] is the master behind that!

PAM: Because I worked on CSI: NEW YORK and still executive produce that, we have mastered the talent of finding New York in L.A. Our inside joke used to be ‘add a water tower.’ You’ll feel like you’re in New York. We have a terrific production designer, Steven Wolff who did DIRTY SEX MONEY and some other shows where he’s created exteriors that so reflect the Upper East Side that we all wanted to move into our sets. And the characters tell the story, it’s where they’re from – it’s not where you are. We can definitely tell the New York story in L.A.

ERIC: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

PAM: Yeah, we’ll get there. You’ll see it. I promise you! The team for CSI: NEW YORK won awards for making L.A. look like New York. We’re going to try to copy that.

What inspired you to do this type of show and how did you go about casting a lead for it?

NICOLE: We were so inspired by old noir films and the neo-noirs from the past 10-20 years that we just kept seeing the fabulous femme fatale. And when the script was given to Sarah, we just said, ‘yes!’ We’ve got the blond with the red lips who can act, and thought , ‘Let’s go!’

Is it as clear cut as the good twin and the evil twin, or is there something else going on?

ERIC: Since we’re playing with identity and duplicity, you never know who’s the mark and who’s the femme fatale. These are two sisters who vacillate between: what is right and what is wrong? There is no light or dark, it’s all about shades of gray in between. Its moral ambiguity to justify the choices that they make because they are tough choices.

So what’s next after the pilot episode?

NICOLE: Well, we’re left with a dead body! And you’ve got to get rid of that dead body. So it’s going to be a fun ride! [laughter]

Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to The TV Addict.

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